It goes without saying that the West Coast is constantly evolving. Growing. Moving with the times. The world is getting smaller and these days even a small business can move their product across the globe no matter where they are based. It is thanks to this that one can walk down the picturesque streets of Langebaan and walk into the town’s very own coffee roaster, a mere stone's throw from the beach.
WINGS Coffee Roasters was started in Langebaan in 2013 when owner and Master Roaster Justus du Toit moved to the town from Makhado in the Limpopo province. Justus, however, is no mere entrepreneur. He is a qualified Air Force fighter pilot who came to Air Force Base Langebaanweg, to qualify as a flying instructor and provide training to the country’s brightest young aviators full-time. This makes the remarkable rise to prominence of WINGS Coffee Roasters even more of an incredible story.
If you ask Justus why he started on his journey of mastering the art of roasting he will tell you simply that it is all about the coffee. During his travels, both for work and in his personal capacity, he experienced coffee of a quality which just was not available in South Africa. He realized that if he was going to find the perfect cup locally he would have to make it himself.
After a little investigation, he realized that freshness was the main culprit affecting the quality of store-bought coffee. The explanation he gives for this is so simple even I can understand it: coffee beans, when roasted, release oils to the surface. It is these oils that give a high-quality cup of coffee that inviting sheen on the surface. These oils are also responsible for giving the coffee its flavor and is the reason that different coffees can possess such a wonderful variety of tastes from which the discerning connoisseur could determine the roast and region of each bean.
In the same way that the oils give coffee its flavor, the lack of these oils is what causes coffee to lose its freshness. A lighter roast, where not all the oils have been released to the surface, will have a longer shelf-life than a darker roast, but in general coffee, once roasted, stays fresh for a maximum of 3-4 weeks. Compare this to the best before date on your store-bought brand which stays on the shelf for over a year and you can understand why Justus was left somewhat unsatisfied with what was commonly on offer in South Africa.
To help him on the road to perfection Justus enlisted the aid of a hand-made Genio 6KG coffee roaster. “The trick”, he says, “is to find the sweet spot for each origin during the roasting process. One thing is a fact: the longer you roast the coffee the more you activate the oils and eventually the more the oils evaporate. Roast it for too long and you will be left at a point where you have a burned vessel with no oils remaining.”
I first saw Justus roast coffee when it was essentially still a hobby run from his garage. Since then I’ve attended many roastings at various locations around the country so it is a treat that I can now watch the magic happen at his new roastery at Old Queens Cottage on Main, the “Hangar”, as he calls it. It has taken the experience of my own travels to realize just how meticulous this man is about his craft. The roasting profile is planned down to the second and executed just as precisely. The inviting smells pervade the room, with its warehouse feel and aviation themed décor. On the wall is a stylized map cut from metal which is marked with pins to represent the origins of his various coffees. When asked about his map Justus says, “I believe the roast needs to highlight the hard work the farmers put in to produce the best possible coffee they can. WINGS Coffee offers more than just a fresh cup. It offers clients the opportunity to travel to those remote destinations by means of a simple cup of coffee.”
For Justus, these are more than just words. He recently got back from a two-week visit to South America, where he visited some coffee plantations in Peru in search of new and exciting flavours. From this region he will be involved with a few selected organic farmers who will benefit from direct trade as Justus benefits by gaining access to some of the best organic coffee on the planet, a benefit his customers will share.
Roasting is, of course, just one step in the quest to make the perfect cup. To this end Justus has assembled, in the hangar, the most comprehensive collection of coffee brewing methods you are likely to see, each adding their own unique piece to the puzzle of building the perfect cup.
WINGS Coffee Roasters has recently teamed up with a company formed by some of Australia and South Africa’s top baristas to offer training to all the coffee shops (known as Operation Centres) that prepare a cup of WINGS Coffee. “This is the only way that we can ensure that all the hard work that has gone into producing this amazing product does not get lost minutes before touchdown.”
Every Operation Centre serves their own unique blend, so no two lounges will ever be the same. A departure board at WINGS Coffee Roasters can show you the flight route to the nearest Operation Centre where your “pilot”, wearing a wing on his chest, will take you on a caffeine-inspired journey you won't forget.
I asked Justus if he could give us some advice on how to ensure you get the most out of your cup of coffee and he had these four tips to share:
- Buy fresh coffee. If it is store bought make sure the date the coffee was roasted is on the bag, not a best before date, and use within 3-4 weeks of roasting.
- Grind fresh and only grind what you are going to use. Freshly ground coffee loses 80% of its flavor 10 minutes after grinding due to exposure to oxygen. Justus recommends a hand-held manually operated grinder he stocks at the hangar for a precise grind.
- Perfect your brewing technique. Whatever your method it can always be improved. At the WINGS Coffee Roasters hangar you can be trained in whatever brewing style you can imagine and they carry stock of some innovative and unique brewing equipment.
- Store your coffee correctly. Oxygen, heat and sunlight are coffee’s biggest enemy and reduce the freshness of your coffee drastically. A common misconception is that storing your coffee in the fridge will keep it fresh but Justus warns that this negatively affects the oils which makes extracting them difficult, and as we know no oils means no flavor. To this end, Justus imports hormone-free ziplock packaging which he believes is the best on the market. It is also reusable, ensuring your coffee addiction does not have a negative impact on the environment.
Written by: Jayden King